The Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has been reported as giving President Rouhani a harsh rebuke concerning the treatment of Mrs Radcliffe, the charity worker returned to jail in Iran after being allowed out for 3 days. Hunt was alleged to have said to the President: “Listen, she’s innocent and she shouldn’t be imprisoned, her treatment has been appalling”. Mrs Radcliffe’s husband, Richard, was also reported as applauding this stance, considering it to be more effective than the that of Boris Johnson. Alistair Burt the Foreign Minister with responsibility for Iran, then travelled to Iran for talks about Iran’s ‘destabilising activity’ and the nuclear deal; and it must be presumed that he adopted and repeated the same uncompromising position. Since then, there has been a deafening silence.
Unfortunately, this harsh unsympathetic approach is precisely the opposite of what is required, and demonstrates a dangerous failure properly to appreciate the psychology needed in this situation – and it may be that Boris Johnson understood this better than Hunt
It is entirely understandable that Richard Radcliffe would favour a firmer line: it has been nearly two years of promises, raising and dashing of hopes, and prevarications – and most recently, the cruellest twist of the knife of all - the recall to prison. It is utterly reasonable to want to get the message across loud and clear: “Enough is enough, this is unacceptable, the UK government will not accept it any longer”.
The very last thing that President Rouhani requires at the moment is a humiliating and demeaning public lecture and rebuke (from a former colonial power), openly reprimanding him over his handling of the Radcliffe affair. It would be as futile as the Iranian President similarly criticising Hunt for the UK’s treatment of Salih Khater, the British citizen of Sudanese origin, who drove his van into cyclists on Westminster Bridge. If Hunt were told: ‘Khater is clearly innocent, it was no more than a traffic accident, and he should be released immediately’, it is hardly likely that Hunt’s reaction would be: “Do you know, you are absolutely right - we never looked at it like that: we are wrong, and we will release him immediately”. Or is it far more likely that it would precipitate a defensive stance and create deepening hostility between the two?
Hopefully, there will have been ongoing private and behind-the-scenes negotiations, but the ‘stern rebuke approach’ will not have helped.
President Rouhani is having to deal with the Radcliffe affair in the midst of a highly complex and fragile political environment. The American sanctions are beginning to bite, and the confidence and self-esteem of the people urgently require enhancing – and in particular that of the security forces. Hence the continued building of nuclear missiles in the face of strong international condemnation, creates a powerful message to the people that Iran will not be dictated to or bullied. Furthermore, the Iranian President is embroiled in a problematic and sensitive internal ideological power struggle between himself as Supreme Leader, and the hard-line Revolutionary Guards and the Judiciary. This puts the Radcliffe dispute into perspective and forms the backdrop against which any discussions concerning Mrs Radcliffe must be viewed.
A Golden Bridge
President Rouhani therefore does not need a public rebuke by the UK Foreign Office, but rather needs to be presented with a dignified means of backing down – a ‘Golden Bridge”. This is a concept derived from Sun Tse, a 4th Century B.C. Chinese military strategist, from his treatise “The Art of War’, whereby he is alleged to have written: ‘A wise conquering general is one who builds a Golden Bridge upon which his defeated enemy can retreat’. In other words, if the enemy is provided with a dignified exit route, it will be able to ‘save face’, and thereby maintain its self-esteem. If the enemy faces nothing but humiliation in defeat, it will have little option but to fight: for it is only through fighting that it believes it can regain an element of self-esteem’.
The Foreign Office would therefore be better occupied devising and constructing a valid plausible and acceptable means of publicly backing down and releasing Nazanin Radcliffe, whilst satisfying the hard-liners, and without losing face, whether domestically or internationally.
Finger-wagging critical reprimands are unlikely to work.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of 7Dnews.